Tag Archives: Austin Wintory

AGOS – A Game of Space Review – Oculus Rift

About a year ago I was playing Watch Dogs 2 and there was this mission where I had to break into the San Francisco offices of Ubisoft and steal/leak/upload a trailer for their hot new game.  That game was AGOS.  I had no idea at the time that game within a game was real, or going to be real a year later, but it is and it’s here and I’m playing it.  AGOS – A Game of Space has become my new passion, an addiction that even distracts from my new PS5.  I tell myself I’m going to play just one or two missions and then it’s 4am and I’m plotting a course past Jupiter with 5,000 human survivors relying on me to keep the human race alive.

Ironically, I hated this game the first hour I played it.  There was no opening, no explanations, no tutorial other than simple objectives and waypoints, but no instructions on how to use these holographic control spheres floating in front of me.  I’m pretty good with space games and concepts of no inertia and principals of thrust and momentum, but nothing made sense.  The game starts with me in orbit over Earth just as this massive ship parks over the planet with a meteor swarm not far behind.  I am thrust behind the controls of this tiny space drone and tasked with unlocking the docking clamps holding a massive ark-like ship in orbit, a ship containing the last 5,000 survivors of the human race.

Many hours later I feel like a chump even complaining about the controls.  They seem so second nature to me now, and I can pilot my drone like a seasoned space captain, but there is a significant learning curve in adapting to the three dimensional thinking required to play this game.  You’ll spend nearly all your time controlling this small space drone that you can maneuver along X, Y, and Z axis using a combination of main thrusters and maneuvering jets.  The trick here is to figure out the proper combination of propulsion options.  Thrusters move you faster but speed isn’t always a good thing since every object in motion requires an opposite reaction of equal force to cancel out.  You also have a sphere for steering your ship in 3D space, and while pointing your drone in a certain direction has little bearing on navigation, later in the game you will have attachments that are direction-specific.

To aid you in flying your drone your steering sphere will plot a line in the direction your probe will move unless otherwise acted upon.  Once you kick in the thrusters another thicker line will appear showing your actual course based on any previous inertia.  I found that using the brakes to stop all movement allowed for the easiest matching of plotted course and actual path of travel.  You can also get knocked off course and even spin out of control if you come in contact with a random asteroid or a gas pocket erupts.  I’ve even had a drill bit bite into a crystal wrong and send me spiraling out into space.  You do need to monitor your probe damage levels as well as remaining fuel.  If you run out of energy you’ll need to limp back to the docking bay on reserve power.

The core game loop is for you to get your ship and its passengers to safety.  A few missions into the game you will learn that a black hole is consuming the solar system, so you get to plot your course around the planets as you spiral your way to a new life, but it’s a long trip and it’s going to require a lot of resources.  Along the way you will make numerous stops where you’ll probe the area for resources such as fuel and minerals and even bits of data all used for an intricate crafting system.  These resources show up as multi-colored glowing “gems” floating in space waiting to be collected by your drone.  While many of these are simply floating around others need to be harvested from space clouds and gas jets and others need to be mined using a fancy drill bit.  These accessories can be “purchased” from an unlockable tech tree using previously required resources as well as engine upgrades and even new probe models.  Later, you can even upgrade the World Ship by attaching new pods to the various connection points to increase its capabilities.

The layer of systems is really quite brilliant and helps keep the game from getting too monotonous.  In later levels you’ll find more resources than you can carry on a single trip, so you will need to make several, often switching out probe tips for specific acquisitions.  A mission map indicates what tools you might need, and not everything happens in space.  You will come across the occasional space station that you can fly inside and explore for additional resources.   These interior sections require some precise flying and are often dark with your only spotlight facing forward.  You’ll even encounter other ships where you can trade for rare items.

The visuals are quite stunning in some places, mostly in the menus and the crafting and upgrade screens.  The map screen allows you to grab, spin, and zoom around a holographic map of the galaxy or just the part you happen to stop in.  Everything is tactile, so to start a mission you have to grab your probe and drag it to the mother ship dock then grab it from there to launch.  Meanwhile your immediate surroundings such as asteroid clumps or perhaps the wreckage of an old space ship are also on this amazing 3D transparent map.  In the galaxy map you can see all your favorite planets spinning around the sun as you chart your course across the solar system, all the while this big black hole is looming on the outer edge.  The detail level goes into ultra-mode when you are dealing with the probe or the world ship.  Being able to grasp and bring these objects right up to your face reveals just as much detail as if ILM had built real models and you were actually holding them.  The main habitation ring around the mother ship is transparent allowing you to see inside where there are all these trees and living quarters.  There are thrusters and individual parts and panels on these ships, and crafting attachments creates new 3D parts that you can attach or pull apart just like you are building your own physical model.

AGOS – A Game of Space is a slow burn with the first several hours having no real threat, just casual exploration and resource gathering, but later on threats will get introduced, one of the first being an impending meteor swarm that puts you on a time limit for getting the job done.  There are a lot of quality of life features like automatic checkpoints and multiple game slots so the entire family can play their own games.  The relative static nature of your position within the game along with the slow-moving drift of the space probe creates a very comfortable situation for VR.  Camera control is manual and you’ll feel like an orchestra conductor as you squeeze the camera buttons on each controller and move your hands around to spin the camera around the probe.  You can always click the button to position in behind the drone, but this also assumes you are facing in your direction of travel.

The audio portion of the game is hauntingly ethereal, leaving you to revel in the silent majesty of space.  Composer, Austin Wintory has crafted a pleasing soundtrack worthy of the sci-fi material being presented, but sound effects are minimal; the hiss of a jet, the roar of a thruster, or the metallic bang when you bounce off an asteroid.  Considering there is no sound in space I’m happy to hear anything.  There is no speech, narration, or computer voice, and only minimal story material found in data logs you can download.  There is a lot of quality gameplay with none of the trappings to keep you emotionally invested in the outcome other than to simply win.  It seems there may have been greater plans for AGOS and then somebody just rushed it out the door.  The fact this game released with little fanfare seems a bit odd.

While AGOS – A Game of Space can be played on the Vive or the Rift I chose to only play this on my Rift S.  The game is played seated so room scale is unnecessary and the Touch controllers are so much more comfortable for long- session games like this.  I started the game on my RTX2080ti card and midway through switched to the RTX3080 and was able to crank the rendering resolution to 150%, which made the game super-sharp and super-detailed.  There was still a bit of model deformation as ships and asteroids snapped into a cleaner look the closer you got, but the draw distance was fantastic with glowing collectibles being visible at over 1400m away.

AGOS is a must-own, must-play game for anyone who loves space and owns a VR headset.  I was worried this was going to be like all the other space station simulators out there, but it’s not.  This is totally original and totally awesome with a fun flying mechanic for collecting resources and a fantastic crafting and upgrade system that took me back to my teens building plastic models in my bedroom.  The game does have a few issues including a very poor first impression and steep learning curve, but once you figure things out you’ll never want to stop playing.  This is easily one of the best VR games of 2020.

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Pode Review – PC

Steam gets a bad rap for all of the indie games that dilute their marketplace but every now and then something special comes along and today that game is Pode; perhaps one of the best and certainly the most unique – from an artistic standpoint – puzzle-platform game I’ve played this year. Having just come from reviewing Biped, another co-op game platformer that was designed for co-op but playable solo, I was eager to see what this new indie adventure had to offer. In Pode you’ll be playing as either Glo, a fallen star or Bulder, a rock if playing co-op with a friend or switching between these two characters if playing alone, as you explore and navigate puzzle-like environments that evolve from your mere presence and aura. There is no backstory or details given about who you are, why you are here, or what you are supposed to do. I had to check the Steam page to find out this much; not that you really need character names or a reason to play a platformer, but it seems that so many indie games forego the formalities these days – here’s our game…play it.

Anyway, each character has their own inherit abilities; Glo can illuminate the environment and radiate heat to melt ice or generate spontaneous growth of plants while Bulder can make use of portals to navigate the levels, radiate energy to spawn growth in crystal shards and release collectible energy trapped in those shards. Each level is a self-contained screen with the primary goal, making your way to the exit, but this often requires extensive exploration and interaction with your surroundings by both characters, often interacting with each other to overcome puzzle-like obstructions. Having two people makes this significantly easier, but Pode is totally playable if playing alone, much like any of the LEGO games. One helpful trick is the ability to link the two characters together by squeezing both triggers and moving them at the same time; at least until a puzzle forces you to separate.

The puzzles are increasingly creative and even a bit challenging, but nothing too overwhelming for even the youngest gamers provided they are observant of the stylized environments. Parts of the world are linked but not in an obvious way, often require a bit of trial and error to figure out the proper path to the exit for each character, which is often not the same. Glo might radiate light on one side of a level to raise a leaf-platform on the other side for Bulder to ride up then Bulder might stand on a button to raise a stone column for Glo to ride up. Sometimes these two might have to stand on each other’s “shoulders” and sometimes Bulder might have to “eat” Glo and spit him/her out across a gap too far to jump.

One of the more interesting elements of Pode is that the hints and tips are often embedded in the world design as these artistic hieroglyphics etched right into the walls. There is very little instruction other than the occasional pop-up controller button tips during the tutorial and a few more throughout the game as new commands are introduced. The controls are intuitive, and while each character has limited abilities to affect their surroundings, the game consistently and creatively mixes these abilities to create some astonishingly clever puzzles. All of the answers are contained within the game, so even when you come across a seemingly impossible glyph/button puzzle you probably just need to look around some more.

Pode really shines with its presentation, featuring a wonderful art style with great lighting effects and some stunning growth animation, as all sorts of vegetation springs to life as Glo moves around barren earth radiating warm light, while Bulder can do the same, infusing energy into small chunks of crystal to create towering crystal spires. You can even link the characters together for maximum regenerative effect. Pode has modest system requirements and looks fantastic on the highest settings. Oddly, your only graphical options are Small, Medium, and Large, so I can’t even tell you what resolution the game is running at but it looks great. The simplistic yet stylish art design can be breathtaking at times with so much life and animation, both in the wildlife and level design as well as the adorable waddling of the two characters. There is even this cute animation when one character gets to the exit and turns to the other, unable to exit without their partner.

Even better than the graphics might just be the soundtrack composed by Austin Wintory. I must have sat at the title screen for over ten minutes just listening to the soothing music, and it only gets better once you start playing the game. Combined with the effervescent, sprouting environments, Pode is this mystical place of enchanting wonder that dazzles from start to finish. Every visual effect, every tune, every sound effect is spot-on perfection. If this is what Norwegian art and culture is about then I want to experience more.

For only $20 I can’t recommend Pode highly enough. Don’t even wait for a sale; especially if you are looking for a great co-op experience to share on the couch or using Steam’s remote play. Lack of online support is the only reason this game isn’t getting a perfect score. With eight levels, each featuring multiple stages, you can expect upwards of 6-8 hours to finish and probably 10-12 if you want to complete the game finding all the 70+ collectibles. I was pretty thorough and still missed a few, but the game makes if super-easy to revisit any specific stage and find those missing items. Additionally, co-op can be toggled on/off at any point in the game from the menu; perfect for the drop-in experience. Pode is a pure delight from start to finish and a great recommendation for family-friendly entertainment.

Screenshot Gallery

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